By Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve

in·ti·ma·cy Noun/ˈintəməsē/

1. Close familiarity or friendship; closeness.

It’s been said before that convincing a donor to give is hard, but convincing a donor to continue to give is twice as difficult. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, the basis of sustaining all relationships is communication. This includes your relationships with your donors. If your nonprofit wants to keep the donor relationship, it’s time to ask if your organization is communicating with donors in the way they expect and need.

Consider it this way: Giving to others is a personal act.  When the giving is based on a relationship and passion for a cause, it could even be seen as an intimate act. In return, today’s donor expects a form of intimate communication with the organizations they support.  As a nonprofit organization, do you understand what level of “communication intimacy” your donors need to keep the relationship alive?

With the variety of communication options out there, as well as the variety of donor preferences, it can really make your head spin. Does your nonprofit decide to communicate with new donors via Twitter and established donors with direct mail? Deciding how to navigate communication with donors when there are so many generational and personal preferences at play is a real challenge, so what does a nonprofit organization do?

Let’s begin by addressing what not do when communicating with donors:

  1. Don’t assume one size fits all.  You have unique donors and constituents.  It will take a platform approach to understand the best way to interact with your audiences.
  2. Don’t assume email is the answer. Choosing one communication as a sole means to create and engage relationships with donors will ultimately be your only way of communicating with donors.
  3. Don’t assume development, communications, and marketing are in separate silos. This traditional mode of departmentalization does not work today. Influencing and encouraging interaction happens from all levels.  To the donor, you are not marketing or PR or development.  You are one organization working in sync together.

Now that we have covered what not to do, we need to map out our best methods of communication. A “Communication Intimacy Chart” is incredibly helpful in this situation because it helps you determine what levels of communication a donor expects, based on their needs. Take a look at the chart below:


After using the Communication Intimacy Chart to identify levels of communication, it’s time to create a communications plan.

  1. Step 1: Create a Communication Preferences Campaign.  Design a communication campaign that will allow your donors and constituents to define their personal preferences.  Spell out the variable ways of communication you have and how to sign up.  List the options selected from the Communication Intimacy Chart in a visual email that allows them to simply select the level of intimacy they want to have with you.
  2. Step 2: Brand Your Communication Platform.  Create a branded area within your website that allows donors and constituents to see how and where they can sign up for messaging with you.  When sending out thank you letters for gifts, create a small printed piece that directs the donor to create their personal preferences when it comes to giving, news and information, volunteerism, etc.
  3. Step 3: Define Communication Capabilities for Each Level. In each level of communication, give the reason for communicating with donors.  For instance, “Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates on our organization” gives a reason for donors to choose that level.

Creating personal and intimate communications with each donor is the best way to invest in your donor relations. A good, customized communications plan will help your donors understand why and how you plan to engage them. Lastly, be ready to pick up the phone, send that email, and post that Facebook message when you know that someone on the other end wants to hear from you.

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